Posted by Jason Polak on 09. November 2014 · 6 comments · Categories: math · Tags: , ,

I keep a fair amount of notes on things I want to learn and results that I am working on. Usually, I keep these in a LaTeX file on my computer in a neatly arranged directory structure. Unfortunately, for some time I’ve been dissatisfied with this approach. For one, LaTeX compiles into a isolated document that can’t be linked easily to other documents. For another, LaTeX makes good looking papers and books but is mediocre at formatting small little notes that might be linked in strange ways.

A typical example is conference notes: I always take notes at conferences at varying degrees of completeness, usually more on the side of a jumbled mess. Sometimes I just jot down one or two things that I’d like to keep in my mind, such as a fact I didn’t know or something to look up later. In typing these notes, perhaps I’d like to highlight these things somehow, perhaps by putting them in a pretty coloured box. With LaTeX, although it’s possible to use coloured boxes for text (and I do), it requires some macro with weird syntax that I keep forgetting.

I’d also like to link little notes together, or add comments to notes I already made, perhaps dated so I can see the progress of my ideas. In LaTeX I can only reliably link within one document, and dating requires me to type out the date. Why should I have to do that? It’s distracting. Of course, I could put everything in one document, but then that document becomes exceptionally difficult to organise since LaTeX documents are just static linear concatenation of pages best suited to papers.

Another problem of LaTeX documents is that they look a little boring. And that’s a good thing for papers since the austerity of the page only serves to enhance the content and presentation of a single (hopefully) well-formed idea that is beautiful without the need for various enhancements. However, for a dynamically changing notebook full of rough notes and half-nonsensical statements, I’d prefer to have something a little more colourful and vibrant.

Hence, I’ve switched from my old system of keeping LaTeXed notes in various files to WordPress. No, there’s no need to worry about this blog becoming a jungle of disorder. Instead I installed WordPress locally on my laptop using the following setup:

  1. LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP
  2. Wordpres in a public_html directory in my home directory
  3. MathJax to process LaTeX, loaded with all my favourite macros

I turned my laptop into a server and now I have a local WordPress blog that I can keep my notes in. It has the added advantage that customising the look and feel of it is far easier than it is in real LaTeX. For instance, coloured boxes are easy in HTML. One just has to make a new CSS class and use div tags to make a new environment, and CSS is way easier to use than LaTeX, not to mention it has far more options and can be used to customise documents in a far saner way than LaTeX does.

MathJax also renders math wonderfully. Rendering short math notes in a browser also has the advantage that they look nicer in Linux because except for Adobe Reader (which is half broken in Linux anyway), not a single PDF reader can use subpixel rendering on an LCD screen, which essentially means that PDF documents look a little fuzzy on Linux.

Finally, and perhaps this is the most important thing, WordPress is such a joy to use that it blows every other note-taking application that I’ve ever used out of the water, and I’ve tried plenty including many for Linux and Android. One can create pages to organise notes, link to various other notes, easily change themes, add widgets to the main page, etc. In fact, WordPress is the only application for organising information that I’ve ever kept using after the first try.

In short, WordPress+MathJax is a nearly ideal combination for short note taking and scrawling down various ideas that otherwise might be lost on scrap paper at the bottom of my backpack.

6 Comments

  1. I have been trying to use the mathjax latex plugin on my offline WordPress site, it keeps returning errors. please can you help? I will appreciate your help.

    • I’m afraid I don’t use the MathJax plugin. I just installed MathJax directly and put the header info into the theme manually. You’ll have to contact the developers to find out what’s wrong with your installation.

  2. And how did you do that? If you don’t mind sharing please.

    • I did this a while ago but here are the basic steps:

      1. Install WordPress on your own computer or on a server.
      2. Download the mathjax distribution from mathjax.org, and put it somewhere in the directory served by the server
      3. Edit the header.php file of your theme and include the line right before the end of the head tag:

      Make sure you replace path with the correct path to the MathJax.js file.

      Note: make sure wordpress is actually working before doing this.

    • Also, as an afterthought, you should also try using the MathJax CDN. Read about it at:

      http://docs.mathjax.org/en/latest/start.html

      Try using that first when you are connected to the internet.

  3. I have tried editing the header.php file and including the script for mathjax, I am still getting the same result.

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